NEWS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Issue 95, JANUARY 2003

Table of Contents

  1. Popular Government, Popular Information
  2. Online Government Services Catching On
  3. Has Terrorism Curtailed E-Government?
  4. Libraries and the USA Patriot Act
  5. Government Agencies Propose Amendment to FAR
  6. GPO Offers to Cut Cost of Printing Budget Document
  7. Secrecy Fights Loom Large in D.C.
  8. Vanishing Act: The U.S. Government's Disappearing Data
  9. E-Government Act of 2002 Signed
  10. PubScience Discontinued
  11. Librarians Receive Advice on USA Patriot Act and Reader Privacy
  12. Librarians Concerned About E-Government Act of 2002
  13. Fed Sites Go Multilingual
  14. Shooting the Messenger: Report on Layoffs Killed
  15. Government Openness at Issue as Bush Hold Onto Records


(1) Popular Government, Popular Information

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry, Aug. 4, 1823
James Madison's words have as much force today as they did when he wrote them 180 years ago. Madison reminds us that knowledge is power. Those with information have an advantage over those without. With knowledge the governed can hold government accountable, respond to government actions, and ensure that government does not abridge individual rights.

In 1813 during Madison's presidency, Congress established the depository system, in which published materials related to the working of the government were to be distributed to state and legal agencies as well as colleges and universities. The intent of the joint resolution was to ensure public access to published government information. In 2002 over 1300 U.S. depository libraries, including Duke's Perkins Library, continue to receive, preserve, and maintain the published records of the government in order to guarantee that they will always be freely available to the public. The U.S. depository program is almost unique; few other nations provide for free access to the publications of their governments.

Beyond the depository program, some government information can also be purchased from federal agencies, and it may also be repackaged and sold by private vendors. Now, it can frequently be found on the Internet as well. Government information is indeed as readily accessible to the citizenry as the nation's founders believed it should be. Recently, however, there have been instances in which that access has been curtailed.

Occasionally, materials have been removed from depository libraries by their issuing agencies, most frequently after a factual error is discovered. However, in October 2001, the U.S. Geological Survey requested the removal of one of their CD publications, Source-Area Characteristics of Large Public Surface-Water Supplies in the Conterminous United States: An Information Resource for Source-Water Assessment, 1999, because they believed it to be a threat to national security. The agency proceeded in the appropriate and legal manner with their request, contacting the Government Printing Office and following long-established procedures.

Yet, there were inconsistencies inherent in the withdrawal of the CD. Only depository libraries were required to remove the CD from their collections and destroy it. Libraries and individuals who purchased the CD product when it was released two years ago were not. In addition, similar state level source water data has remained in depository collections. Unfortunately, there have also been inconsistencies in the limitations imposed on government information on the Web.

On September 11, 2001, most federal agency sites shut down. In the following weeks and months the Web pages produced by a variety of agencies were "reviewed" for "sensitive information". Agencies as diverse as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have withdrawn access to files. The CDC removed a report on chemical terrorism, the FAA a review of security violations. There has been removal of information on chemical and nuclear hazards, pipeline information and aerosol sprays. In each of these cases, the information was withdrawn based on the agency's assessment alone. And the irony is that these same web pages are mirrored elsewhere.

The removal of materials from depository libraries and the withdrawal of content from government Web sites compromise the principle of free and continuing access to government information. We should be aware of the consequences.

First, there is the impact on the public's right to know. Limited access to information is an impediment to local government officials, public policy groups, neighborhood organizations and individuals. Citizens have the need for and the right to information that affects their lives personally and in community.

Then there is the erosion of accountability. The depository program provides free, ready access to the record of the government's actions. The citizenry's ability to review the actions of their government is integral to our democracy, as is the oppportunity to interact with the government. As James Madison notes, "...a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Finally, the historical record is compromised. Government information shows how we make decisions, what we consider to be important, and how we address the issues of the time. The social, economic, military and cultural history of our nation is contained in texts such as the Congressional Serial Set and the documents of federal government agencies. Our history may include episodes we regret, such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, or milestones we celebrate, like giving women the right to vote, but all are integral to our national identity. We lose the social, political, and economic thought that has gone into the making of our nation when we lose government information.

The present challenge to librarians, and to all citizens, is to continue the commitment to access to government information, even when doing so requires balancing the need for openness against the need for security. And librarians will also lobby, publicize their concerns, and cooperate with other organizations to inform the public about issues related to open government and access.

My goal as a librarian has always been to provide individuals with the information they need. As a government information librarian, I have the additional responsibility of ensuring that information produced by the government is always freely accessible to the governed.

Note: A set of resources on balancing information access is availalbe from the American Library Association, Government Documents Round Table at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/GODORT/education/index.html.

Ann Miller, the author of this article, is the head of the Perkins Library Public Documents and Maps Department at Duke University and has granted permission for the article to be shared via Red Tape. The article originally appeared in Duke University Libraries, Fall 2002, Vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 12-13.

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(2) Online Government Services Catching On

The number of citizens worldwide using the Internet to access government services or products during the past 12 months increased 15 percent, according to the second Government Online Study published Thursday by the London-based market research company Taylor Nelson Sofres.

Globally, three out of 10 citizens, or 30 percent, said they had accessed government services online, compared with 26 percent a year ago.

Countries showing the highest increases include the U.S. (from 24 percent to 43 percent), Australia (from 31 percent to 46 percent), Turkey (from 3 percent to 13 percent), and the Netherlands (from 31 percent to 41 percent).

By comparison, usage of government online services dropped in Japan by 4 percent, from 17 percent to 13 percent.

Source: John Blau, IDG News Service, PCWorld.com, Nov. 7, 2002 via Yahoo News; http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&u=/pcworld/20021107/tc_pcworld/106778
.

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(3) Has Terrorism Curtailed E-Government?

Something is missing from government Web sites these days. But no one is sure exactly what.

Seeking to fortify national defense in the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government reevaluated its massive presence on the World Wide Web. But a year later, federal government officials aren't clear on what information remains online, what's been taken off, and whether any of it will ever return.

Observers and experts say the September 11 attacks changed the way the government views online information.

"There's much more tension between open access and national security," says Darrell West, a Brown University professor who tracks e-government. "I think the balance has shifted against putting everything online to trying to make sure that information online isn't used against the United States."

Source: Stephen Chiger, Medill News Service, PCWorld.com, September 11, 2002; http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,104796,00.asp.

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(4) Libraries and the USA Patriot Act

Librarians in Berkeley (California) and across the country are increasingly concerned that federal agents will use the USA Patriot Act -- an anti-terrorism bill signed nearly a year ago -- to demand patron circulation records and Internet logs. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee released the Justice Department's answers to a series of questions about the Patriot Act, including how many times federal investigators have obtained records from public libraries and bookstores. But the Justice Department declined to provide many details, saying the information is classified.

Source: Dana Hull, Libraries Face Privacy Test, San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 18, 2002.

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(5) Government Agencies Propose Amendment to FAR

A draft amendment to the Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR) has been proposed that would permit agencies to utilize printers other than the GPO : http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/gpo_proposed_rule_revised.pdf.

On December 13, 2002, the five major library associations submitted comments on the proposed amendment to the FAR. According to the comments, while the proposed change may seem reasonable to those unfamiliar with the workings of the Federal Depository Library Program, it lacks the necessary ingredients of coordination and centralization that are necessary for meaningful public access to government information. The proposed FAR change is problematic in two respects: first, it violates provisions in current law that mandate agency use of GPO to procure publications and that charge agencies the costs for depository copies when they procure elsewhere; and second, it will likely make the problem of fugitive documents, a long-standing problem that it intends to ameliorate, even worse. As written, without specific detail as to how agencies would comply with providing publications to the Superintendent of Documents for cataloging and distribution of print materials, the proposed change fails to adequately support the needs of the federal depository community or, more importantly, the public. While attempting to solve the fugitive documents problem, agency responsibilities in the proposed FAR amendment are so vague that the result will be more fugitive publications, not fewer.

Source: ARL Federal Relations E-News, Dec. 2002.

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(6) GPO Offers to Cut Cost of Printing Budget Document

The Government Printing Office has offered to cut the cost of printing the federal budget by 23 percent to stop the Bush administration from outsourcing the job.

Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Amy Call said the GPO has offered to print the president’s fiscal 2004 budget proposal for $387,000. The budget will be printed in January and issued in February. Last year, the GPO charged the administration $505,370 to print the fiscal 2003 budget.

Call said OMB would decide whether to give the printing work to the GPO or to a private contractor before Christmas. The number of private bidders and the dollar amounts of their bids for the budget work cannot be made public, Call said.

For the full story by Brian Friel appearing in GovExec.com Today, Dec. 20, 2002, see http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/1202/121902b1.htm.

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(7) Secrecy Fights Loom Large in D.C.

The Bush administration won a decisive victory with the dismissal of the General Accounting Office's suit seeking records related to the vice president's energy task force. But its fight to keep a tight hold over information is far from over. Watchdog groups continue attempts to penetrate the executive branch, and now more pressure will be put on these suits to get information from a reluctant administration.

Source: Legal Times, Dec. 18, 2002 as reported by Bill Sleeman, Documents Librarian, Thurgood Marshall Law Library, GOVDOC-L, Dec. 19, 2002.

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(8) Vanishing Act: The U.S. Government's Disappearing Data

More than any other country, the U.S. government has used the web to make a wealth of information available to its citizens. But as we are now discovering, the dark side of web-based information is the ease with which it can be deleted.

Government-sponsored (which is to say, taxpayer-funded) information and research is disappearing from government web sites, much of it in the name of national security. Airport safety data vanished, and chemical plant risk-management plans were deleted from the Environmental Protection Administration's web site.

The Department of Energy removed environmental impact statements which alerted local communities to potential dangers from nearby nuclear energy plants, as well as information on the transportation of hazardous materials.

The US Geological Service asked depository libraries to destroy a CD-ROM database on surface water (as a result, University of Michigan researchers lost access to information vital to their three-year study of hazardous waste facilities, and community activists could no longer access data on chemical plants that violate pollution laws).

An entire database of unclassified technical reports was removed from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Web site since it would have taken too much time to examine each document in the database for its potential security risk.

The Defense Department removed over 6,000 documents from its web site. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down its entire web site and brought it back up again, scrubbed of anything considered potentially useful to terrorists.

According to the American Library Association, the Department of Energy has removed 9,000 scientific research papers that contain keywords such as "nuclear" or "chemical" and "storage" from national laboratory web sites and is reviewing them to see if they pose security risks. The Defense Technical Information Center has removed thousands of documents.

But other information that has no relationship whatsoever with security issues is also vanishing, and there is some suspicion that an ideology test is being applied. The Centers for Disease Control removed reports from its web site on the effectiveness of condoms in AIDS prevention, and on effective programs for the prevention of tobacco use, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among young people.

The National Cancer Institute removed a report debunking the claim that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer, and the Department of Education is, it says, "reevaluating" hundreds of research reports available on its web site.

Furthermore, state governments are also removing data from public access. Florida governor Jeb Bush signed measures closing public access to information on hospital security plans and information on emergency stockpiles of pharmaceuticals.

Florida lawmakers have also proposed restricting access to information about cropdusters and about state investigations of food-borne illnesses. Massachusetts legislators want to restrict access to records such as blueprints for the state's bridges, tunnels and airports.

Michigan and Tennessee legislators are considering barring access to state emergency response plans. In Oklahoma, among the sensitive materials legislators are considering restricting are the times of school board meetings and the location of high pressure gas lines.

Now, it is possible to make an honorable case for many of these deletions of public information. Maps revealing the location of gas pipelines might very well be useful to terrorists, though they would be even more useful to potential buyers of farm land crossed by those pipelines.

Information on safety flaws at chemical plants might indeed be useful to terrorists, though it would be even more useful to emergency workers in nearby communities. Educational and medical research are always in need of updating, but then again, since knowledge is built on mistakes of the past as well as successes, the traditional way of doing it is to add new data rather than to erase the old.

The problem is that the previous presumption, that publicly-funded information is the rightful property of the public until proven otherwise, has been replaced by the presumption that the public has to prove to a suspicious government that it deserves the information. Gary Bass, of OMB Watch, a private group which monitors government spending and legislation, says "We are moving from a right to know to a need to know society."

Where former Freedom of Information Act policy put the burden on the federal agencies to justify withholding documents requested under FOIA, Attorney General John Ashcroft's October 12, 2001 memo to federal agencies instructed them to avoid releasing documents until after conducting a full review of any possible security implications of the disclosure.

Isn't that convenient for government, given that the natural tendency for government officials is toward secrecy? And if you don't believe that, see the Audits and Surveys of State Freedom of Information laws (link below), which reports on the project by a number of news agencies to request public information from a variety of agencies in 19 states; they were repeatedly forbidden access -- in Colorado, a third of the time local agencies failed to comply with state public records law, in Connecticut only 22% of agencies complied, in Maryland requesters had only "a one-in-four chance of immediately getting what they are looking for."

September 11 has become a blanket excuse for governments to conduct their business as they prefer to do -- in private, suppressing all kinds of information, whether or not is has even the most tangential relation to national security, and without any regard to valid public information needs.

Timothy Maier, in a story in the April 8 Insight Magazine, found that "even résumés of senior government officials are being censored in some agencies... When reporter Todd Carter obtained resumes of EPA political appointees to post on the Natural Resources News Service Website the EPA directed him not to post them because of privacy concerns.

The EPA then sent another batch of résumés that blacked out education levels, awards, affiliations and even job experience. When asked for the return of the unredacted résumés, Carter refused and posted résumés on the news-service Website showing that EPA had brought in former Enron employees."

More information will presumably disappear when some government agencies cease to exist as their functions are folded into the new Department of Homeland Security. Among the agencies slated for extinction are the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Will anybody in the reconstituted agency preserve the documents on their web pages? If not, will the University of North Texas librarians who operate a "CyberCemetery" of the documents of defunct government agencies preserve them?

What's more, not only is there no government policy stipulating procedures and determinants for the deletion of data from government web sites, no government agency, not even FirstGov.gov, can even tell you what has been deleted from what pages.

So who is keeping track of deleted data? As you would expect, government document librarians are monitoring the situation closely; information on deletions and other threats to public information is available on the Government Documents Round Table web site has also created a Task Force on Permanent Public Access to Government Information.

Other concerned groups include OMBWatch, which monitors the deletion of government web pages, and the Federation of American Scientists, which maintains a Project on Government Secrecy. The Project's director, Steven Aftergood, suggests that what we need is an oversight panel to review deletion decisions so that decisions to withhold public information could not be made "by some anonymous agency official" without the possibility for the public to challenge them."

It seems to me that GODORT is on the right track with its task force for permanent access to government documents, and there are plenty of willing organizations it can partner with, but the job is too big for them. There are just too many web documents to copy, and thanks to OMB's dictum that federal agencies should ignore the Government Printing Office, even finding them in the first place will be a massive, time-consuming project.

Librarians -- not just government documents librarians, but all of us -- are going to need to assume that information on government web pages is temporary. Just as librarians have worked cooperatively to make sure that last copies of printed works are not allowed to vanish, we will need to act cooperatively, and quickly, to preserve information from government web pages, whether by printing it out and cataloging it or by mirroring it on our own web sites.

Because it's not THEIR information. It's OUR information, and we can't let them get away with deleting it. We paid for it, and we need it, if we're to have any hope of knowing what our government is doing. Since giving people access to the information their taxes paid for has always been the job of librarians, we are the ones who are going to have to take on this challenge.

Marylaine Block a former academic librarian, is now an internet trainer, speaker, writer, and editor of two e-zines. This article originally appeared in one of them, ExLibris, on December 6, 2002. Links to all her work are available at http://marylaine.com/. Thanks to Cass Hartnett at the University of Washington Libraries for pointing out that the article is also available via SearchDay, Dec. 19, 2002, no. 424.

Audits and Surveys of State Freedom of Information Laws
http://foi.missouri.edu/openrecseries.html
Results of a six-month survey by members of 19 media organizations and the journalism schools at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona auditing 187 state agencies to test Arizona's Public Records Law.

University of North Texas "CyberCemetery"
http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/
UNT librarians maintain an archive of documents of defunct government agencies.

Government Documents Round Table
http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/GODORT/
The Government Documents Round Table is a unit of the American Library Association intended to provide a forum for discussion of problems and concerns, and for the exchange of ideas by librarians working with government documents.

OMBWatch
http://ombwatch.org/
OMB Watch monitors the deletion of government web pages.

Federation of American Scientists
http://ombwatch.org/
The FAS maintains this Project on Government Secrecy.

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(9) E-Government Act of 2002 Signed

The E-Government Act of 2002, designed to help the federal government take fuller advantage of the Internet and use information technology to maximize efficiency, became law on December 17th in a small ceremony to which reporters were not invited.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., the legislation establishes a new Office of E-government within the White House's Office of Management and Budget to oversee government-wide efforts. It authorizes funding that increases from $45 million in the 2003 budget year, which began Oct. 1, to $150 million in 2006.

OMB already essentially performs the functions of the new office, but the legislation codifies the position in law and makes it permanent.

Recent improvements include redesigns of one-stop federal Internet portals such as Firstgov.gov, an online gateway for Americans to federal services and information; Recreation.gov, which provides links to 1,900 federal parks; and GovBenefits.gov, a site where people can search for the benefits to which they are entitled.

Starting with the 2003 tax year, some Americans will be able to not only file, but prepare for free, their tax forms online.

Other online improvements in the works include a Regulations.gov Web site making it easier to participate in the federal rulemaking process and an electronic payroll system that will go from 22 payroll service providers to four, OMB spokesman Trent Duffy said.

The measure also requires regulatory agencies to conduct administrative rule-makings on the Internet and federal courts to post information and opinions on their Web sites; provides for temporary exchanges of information technology workers to government from the private sector; and authorizes "share-in savings" contracts, in which contractors provide upfront technology and are paid out of some of the savings they reap for their federal agency customers.

Source: Freedom Forum Online, Dec. 18, 2002.

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(10) PubScience Discontinued

The Department of Energy has discontinued PubScience as of November 4, 2002. PubScience was a Web site developed by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) to provide access to peer-reviewed journal articles in the physical sciences and other energy-related disciplines. Some members of the information industry such as Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and Elsevier Science Inc. claimed that PubScience was unfairly competing with private sector indexes. As a consequence, the DOE solicited comments on the discontinuation of PubScience in early September. ARL with the other major library associations issued a statement in support of PubScience, http://www.arl.org/info/frn/gov/pubscience02.html. Public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of continuing PubScience.

Source: ARL Federal Relations E-News, December 2002.

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(11) Librarians Receive Advice on USA Patriot Act and Reader Privacy

Concerned about how federal access to their records would undermine readers' privacy, thousands of librarians gathered around the country on December 11th to hear televised advice about how to respond to government requests under last year's antiterrorism law.

Although some of the librarians calling in suggested defiance of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, all the speakers said proper federal requests for data should be dutifully complied with, but only when a proper court order was served and not just because an F.B.I. agent asked for information.

But they offered one consistent piece of advice: the fewer records that were kept, the less information the government could see. Even necessary records should be promptly destroyed after use.

Gary E. Strong, director of the Queens Borough Public Library in New York, said that the act did not require additional record keeping but that when federal authorities sought records under its provisions, "if you have records, you must make them available."

James Neal, the librarian for Columbia University, said: "There is nothing in the law which requires us to authenticate any individuals as they act to use collections or electronic information. There is nothing which dictates what information we need to collect."

Almost all states have laws keeping the details of library use secret except for clear law enforcement needs. But Thomas M. Susman, a lawyer here who deals with library issues, warned the librarians not to count on state laws for protection. Federal law, he said, "trumps" such protections.

Librarians have been concerned over reader privacy since the anti-terrorism law was passed, despite their lobbying against the provisions affecting libraries. But they have found it hard to quantify the problem because orders obtained under the law come with a judicial directive that bars disclosure of the order to the news media or the public.

The Justice Department has refused to make public how often it has used its new powers and is being sued for the information by the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

A survey conducted late last year by the Library Research Center of the University of Illinois, indicated that 4.1 percent of all libraries, and 11.4 percent of those in communities of 50,000 people or more, had been asked about their patrons by either the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the police.

Leigh Estabrook, dean of the the university's School of Library Science, said she thought those percentages were probably low. "Librarians are fairly cautious," Ms. Estabrook, said.

Judith F. Krug, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said last summer that the issue was hardly new, for the F.B.I. had conducted such surveillance programs in the past. "We believe that what you read is nobody's business but your own," Ms. Krug continued. "If you convert what you read into illegal behavior, then there are laws to deal with that. But just because someone reads how to build a bomb doesn't mean you're a bomber. There is no way you can tell."

None of the speakers at today's conference, sponsored by five library associations, said that government access to library records was being abused. "We may not feel comfortable," Mr. Susman said, "but as yet we have no foundation for inferring guilt."

But the speakers urged librarians to keep careful notes on the law's use.

Tracy Mitrano, who directs computer policy at Cornell University, said, "We can begin to create a record to see if there is abuse."

She added, "Of course we want to work in whatever ways we can to fight terrorism, but if another drop of blood is not shed, we will still have lost that war against terrorism if we forsake our constitutional liberties."

Source: Adam Clymer, New York Times, Dec. 11, 2002.

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(12) Librarians Concerned About E-Government Act of 2002

In response to President Bush's signing of the E-Government Act of 2002, some librarians and public interest groups are warning that White House policies could make it harder and more costly for citizens to use the Internet to find government documents or take advantage of essential federal services.

At issue is the White House's policy to allow private companies to bid for printing jobs, a move aimed at weakening the Government Printing Office's (GPO) longstanding near-monopoly on printing government documents.

The possibility that the White House policy may hobble the GPO's role in coordinating the archiving of government documents is what has librarians and e-government advocates most alarmed. When the GPO prints an agency publication, it also forwards electronic or hard copies of the document to the National Archives and to as many as 1,300 depository libraries nationwide.

Library groups said that this centralized dissemination process may falter -- along with the reliable availability of government information online -- when agencies get the freedom to take their printing jobs to a field of private vendors.

"This proposal is going to blow a huge hole in the distribution of government information, and limit the amount of information that's available to the public online," said Patrice McDermott, assistant director for government relations at the American Library Association.

Amy Call, spokeswoman for the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), dismissed those concerns, saying agencies will be required to forward copies of all government documents to the GPO, regardless of who prints them.

"All we're saying is agencies should have the right to contract with whoever can get the best deal for the taxpayer," Call said in explaining the White House policy. "If the GPO can do it the cheapest, agencies will continue to use it."

The GPO is not necessarily the cheapest game in town. It charges agencies a 7 percent premium in addition to processing fees, and routinely retains discounts for prompt payment, practices that by the OMB's count cost taxpayers an extra $50 million to $70 million a year.

The GPO, however, said that taxpayers would pay an extra $100 million to $200 million every year if agencies have to start soliciting their own printers and electronic archivists. In addition, the GPO said that almost half of all government publications never even make it to the libraries or archives. The documents that the GPO never sees usually are publications agencies have printed in-house, which the office said demonstrates why it needs to retain its century-long hold on the printing process.

Other critics said the White House plan lacks guidance on which electronic formats agencies should use when forwarding documents to the GPO, a deficiency library groups say could force the printing office to wrestle with incompatible technologies.

The OMB and the printing office have convened informal discussions to resolve the dispute, but in the meantime the White House already has solicited private bids to publish its fiscal 2004 budget.

Another criticism levied by library and public access groups is the fear that cutting the GPO out of the picture is a dangerous precedent for replacing other government-sponsored indexes with commercial alternatives that may be less willing to distribute the information to libraries for free.

Something like this has already happened. The Energy Department last month alarmed researchers when it shuttered a popular Internet site that catalogued government and academic science research. The Washington Post reported that the free Web site was discontinued in response to corporate complaints that it competed with similar commercial services.

"This is about permanent public access to government information," said Karrie Peterson, government information librarian at the University of California, San Diego. "But these (commercial) services aren't about providing this information for good; they're more interested in staying in business until there are no more free services out there.

" Industry advocates like the Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group that represents publishers and information aggregators, said the White House outsourcing effort won't undermine e-government.

"We've been very supportive of effective e-government," said Mark Bohannon, senior vice president of public policy at SIIA, whose clients include Thomson Corp., and Reed Elsevier, which runs Lexis-Nexis. "We simply want to make sure that as the positive aspects of e-government are promoted that it not lead to competition by the government for services that can or should be provided by the private sector."

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), one of the principal authors of the newly signed E-Government Act of 2002, said the law contains sufficient safeguards to preserve the sharing of government information -- no matter how the government decides manage its printing jobs.

The new e-government law calls for standards to help federal agencies put more public policy records online, and seeks to centralize information and services now scattered across various government agencies, making them searchable by subject.

It also requires chief information officers from the three branches of the federal government to devise standards that agencies will use to determine which online and electronic documents are worthy of preservation.

But library groups said the administration's policy threatens to undercut federal agencies' ability to take stock of the information they produce in electronic form or post on their Web sites.

Mary Alice Baish, spokeswoman for the American Association of Law Libraries, said the White House plan contradicts the E-Government Act's goals, including the requirement that agencies provide access to any Internet-based government information or service through a single online "portal," such as Firstgov.gov.

"On the one hand we have a bill whose purpose is to take advantage of the Internet and the newest technologies to make government information more accessible to the public. On the other you have OMB proposing to take away a chance for some real centralization and coordination of government information that is crucial to the ability of the public to hold government accountable," Baish said.

The SIIA's Bohannon said that the White House is only trying to keep a government monopoly from acting as a gatekeeper of public information.

"This is about respecting need for a diversity of private sector sources of information, otherwise we're going to have the government controlling what gets out to public," he said.

Baish disagreed, saying that the private sector would control access to important information and research, much of it created with public money.

"We really have some very troubling times ahead in terms of assuring that government information paid for by our tax dollars is something that we will continue to have access to at no cost," Baish said.

In one branch of the government, the e-government law will make no difference whatsoever. Congress has exempted itself from the law, dodging a chance to provide the ultimate accountability tool, such as a searchable index of individual member voting records, said Ari Schwartz, associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Source: Article by Brian Krebs, Washington Post, December 17, 2002.

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(13) Fed Sites Go Multilingual

There's a move afoot among Federal government Internet Web sites to develop multilingual presences. The Social Security Administration and the Small Business Administration have launched Spanish-language portals. The National Library of Medicine has a link on each page for readers to read in English and Spanish.

Agencies consider it most cost effective to contract out the service of translating the texts. The documents are then proofed by volunteers before they become MS Word and PDF files.

The Social Security Administration also has a multilingual site with information available in 14 additional languages including Chinese, Korean, Polish and Russian. Some of the forms are available as PDF files because HTML has some problems with fonts in non-Latin alphabets.

Source: The full Government Computer News article (November 18, 2002) is available at http://www.gcn.com/21_33/regulation/20494-1.html.

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(14) Shooting the Messenger: Report on Layoffs Killed

The Bush administration, under fire for its handling of the economy, has quietly killed off a Labor Department program that tracked mass layoffs by U.S. companies.

The statistic, which had been issued monthly and was closely watched by hard-hit Silicon Valley, served as a pulse reading of corporate America's financial health.

There's still plenty of economic data available charting employment trends nationwide. But the mass-layoffs stat comprised an easy-to-understand overview of which industries are in the greatest distress and which workers are bearing the brunt of the turmoil.

For the full article by David Lazarus appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 3, 2003, see http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/01/03/MN120712.DTL. Thanks to Amy West, University of Minnesota Government Publications Library, for bringing it to our attention in GOVDOC-L, January 3, 2003.

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(15) Government Openness at Issue as Bush Hold Onto Records

In "Government Openness at Issue as Bush Hold Onto Records" (New York Times; 3 January 2003), seasoned Times reporter Adam Clymer surveys government secrecy in the Bush administration and finds that "the Bush administration has put a much tighter lid than recent presidents on government proceedings and the public release of information, exhibiting a penchant for secrecy that has been striking to historians, legal experts and lawmakers of both parties."

"Some of the Bush policies, like closing previously public court proceedings, were prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and are part of the administration's drive for greater domestic security. Others, like Vice President Dick Cheney's battle to keep records of his energy task force secret, reflect an administration that arrived in Washington determined to strengthen the authority of the executive branch, senior administration officials say." "Some of the changes have sparked a passionate public debate and excited political controversy. But other measures taken by the Bush administration to enforce greater government secrecy have received relatively little attention, masking the proportions of what dozens of experts described in recent interviews as a serious change in government openness." A must read article according to the National Coalition on History Washington Update, Vol. 9, no. 1, Jan. 8, 2003! Available courtesy of TruthOut at : http://www.truthout.org/docs_02/010403A.wh.secrecy.htm. Original available via New York Times (requires free registration) at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/03/politics/03SECR.html.

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